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The Porthcurno valley road which leads to carparks at the museum, beach, and theatre is narrow and bounded by walls and a stream, leading to serious traffic standstills when modern large vehicles meet. Due to these limitations, problems have been developing for years, and have been documented and reported by the local residents' association to Cornwall Council with a view to suggesting improvements. Concretely, this has led to a much more diligent cutting back of road-narrowing hedges and vegetation in the valley.
A particular problem is the narrow road which climbs from the beach and museum carparks up to the houses, church, and theatre on the cliffs, known as Mansell's Hill. Narrow width and a tight bend at the top combine with traffic flows from Minack Theatre performances to create severe delays, and nuisance and danger to pedestrians who are entirely entitled to walk here, and likely to do so as this is the most direct and well-surfaced route they will find to walk on. Coaches simply cannot climb this hill, only really small buses, so a large number of passengers walk up this hill from the car and coach parks and the bus stop in the valley, and a pavement here would be helpful.
The Minack Theatre have now withdrawn two separate plans of theirs for new unsightly, unlit and and impractical rough-surfaced paths cut through the brush on the steep hillside above the beach, which would have been unlikely to be used and did not address actual issues on the ground.
Residents on the cliffs past the Minack have no vehicular access to or from their homes before and after Minack performances for as much as 45 minutes each time, with 7 or more performances weekly and morning events as well. On a day with a matinee that can total well over 3 hours of blocked access for residents. Residents in the valley are also finding they sometimes cannot get to or from their homes due to traffic jams in the valley primarily caused by larger vehicles but also the sheer growing volume of traffic. Many residents have valued the fact that in law Porthcurno is within an officially designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), meaning it is highly appreciated in its natural state and meant to be highly protected against inappropriate development and activity.
In the month of August the Minack Theatre use a field recently purchased, subject to restrictions, from the collection of the Telegraph Museum for additional parking adjacent to the Minack. This is only allowed for 28 days per year and brings even more cars into the pinchpoints on Mansell's Hill, rather than placing signs at the base of the hill to state that the Minack Theatre and its parking are full, or even requiring visitors to pre-book and come by sustainable transport or use a Park and Ride system based outside and before the narrow valley. Regardless of what covenants or restrictions there may be on the land, the Minack currently hope to extend the usage to 365 days by applying for planning permission though it clearly would not have solved the problems shown above as the field was already in use at the time - in fact it may have caused them by attracting additional traffic at the time of a performance. Users of this additional Minack car parking are then enticed to buy a maximum ten minute external viewing ticket for £1.00 if a sold-out performance is in progress, meaning easily £500 additional revenue can be added to each performance by use of this additional parking, and if a performance is not in progress visitors may buy a ticket to tour the theatre or a ticket to gain entrance to the theatre's compact cafe.
The Minack have many millions in profits sitting in the bank, with additional mid six-figure profits accumulating each year. Charity Commission figures for the period 2011-2016 also report a steep rise in daytime visitors of 46%, presumably meaning paying visitors to the exhibition, tour and cafe, attracted by the offering on the Minack website. Visitors to the Minack's office may want to ask whether the office has the disabled access required by law, and if not, why not, and what small sum it would take to implement that.
If the Minack did gain planning permission for additional parking it would be valid year-round, despite the planning application being misleadingly titled "Change of use of part of sports field to allow for seasonal parking." There would be nothing to stop them holding much larger events or even hiring out the premises at any time of year. Then the increased activity and the pressures it creates would be used as an argument for the likely next step in the game plan: a major housing development next door involving building a new road across green fields. This was strongly hinted at by a Minack representative at a local residents meeting, when the representative asserted that a developer would pay for a new road and the landowner would be amenable. When asked if there was a housing development planned, the representative did not reply. When it was pointed out to that this proposed one-way system could not accommodate coaches and on rejoining the existing road near the bottom of the valley would meet all the same bottlenecks and delays as before, the representative had no comment. So it may well be that the upmarket Minack Village and busy new road from Minack to valley is already planned around the currently quiet Rospletha group of houses, with the new road cutting through to the valley just above Seaview B&B, where some unexplained clearance and possibly surveying has taken place. New roads are hugely expensive - only a major development could fund one, otherwise for planning and financial reasons new roads here are, appropriateness aside, pie in the sky.
As traffic builds to intolerable levels and residents and visitors complain, performance time comes and the Minack's handy script would read, to the largest possible audience: "Oh dear, somehow there are terrible traffic problems here and we can't do anything about them. But a new road would solve the problem, but we can't afford it. But a very kind property developer has offered to build a big new road for us all, just as long as we let them build a few houses too. So to solve all our problems, ladies and gentlemen, we ask you to please support the planning application for the fine new estate on the cliffs at Porthcurno!" Publicity materials for investors in holiday homes would make much of the luxury homes' proximity to a "word-famous theatre". This hidden goldmine might explain the historic reluctance of the Minack, and Cornwall Council, to limit the Minack's activities to a level suitable to the location.
All parties will want to ask themselves whether major housebuilding and roadbuilding in an AONB is an acceptable price to pay for hosting an amateur theatre that does not want to recognise sensible limits, and whether the parking and traffic buildup is a Trojan Horse in a longer campaign of development. Housing development would also inevitably lead to calls for close inspection of the financial interests and relationships of Minack trustees and staff.
The establishment and funding of a Coastal Communities Team in 2015 brought some hope of real benefits to residents and visitors, with many constructive suggestions for new solutions, such as Park and Ride or the exclusion of coaches from the valley, or using today's technology to advise visitors that all parking is full before they enter the valley, or before they even set off to Porthcurno. Unfortunately little has been done, and 2017 brought record levels of traffic and traffic jams, even at new locations. It seems Porthcurno has reached Peak Traffic - more vehicles simply cannot be accommodated.
Anyone can comment on, or object to, the Minack carpark plans online here.
The carpark application was objected to by Cornwall's own official AONB unit, and by West Cornwall Friends of the Earth, and the local residents' association (PKRA), and forty-three other parties. Despite the Minack conceding they had no need for this parking, a solo council officer (not a public committee meeting) granted this carpark permission but only for two years, ensuring it remains a live and unresolved issue, not least of all as the council's procedures and reasons are in question. The National Trust did not object to or even comment on this plan on their doorstep. This carpark would be visible from the coastpath and National Trust land across the Porthcurno bay to Treen Castle, having a seriously detrimental effect on the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and violating numerous council policies.
Note: The planning application seems to be attracting a certain number of rather similar, possibly scripted, out-of-area letters of support which may not fully understand the physical facts of the situation, nor what is being decided. Permission already exists to use the field for parking 28 days a year and no-one is asking for that to be revoked, nor for the Minack Theatre to close. The issue is expansion, and what is appropriate and sustainable development and how that involves and impacts a community. As there is a local Coastal Communities Team partnership working on some good local transport proposals, it is highly surprising to see the Minack Theatre, not for the first time, bypassing this to launch their own proposals about which they have never consulted anyone. Good neighbours try to talk to their neighbours and work things out with them, don't they?
It is also surprising to see the well-liked and respected charity the Telegraph Museum writing a letter of support, particularly on a property that does not border them. Some contents of their letter do not compare well with known facts, so it is valid to ask whether the Trustees of the Museum will want to withdraw this letter and maintain their neutrality and good relations with all parties. You can read about the objects of this charity on the Charity Commision Website and contact the representative Trustee on email@example.com.
Planners and Councillors will no doubt want to consider what weight to give to any letter of support from a Minack employee writing in an individual capacity to support their own employer's application, and whether that is in fact appropriate at all, particularly if not stated in the letter.
Questions are also being asked about how there could be a letter of support from the WI and whether they really knew the facts of the situation, as they refer to coach parking for WI groups: that is only possible in the existing council carpark at the bottom of the valley, not the Minack carpark on the cliffs which is the subject of the planning application. Or do the WI just support all forms of jam-making, including traffic jams?